January 2014 Archives

Time to Master IT Skills

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This is a guest blog by Jane Richardson, director of Oracle Academy EMEA.

Jane Richardson.jpgThe disconnect between the skills employers expect from graduate hires and the IT education that students receive at school has reached a critical level. A recent report from McKinsey underscores the gravity of the situation, revealing that more than a quarter of European Employers are struggling to find candidates with the skills required to make an impact in the modern workforce.

So what is causing this disconnect? Part of the problem lies with the ICT curriculum that the UK currently has in place. Often this fail to keep pace with the latest technological innovations and the evolving skill-set today's 'digitally native' youth. So while some youngsters may spend their time at home writing complex lines of code on Java, at school only the basics (such as word processing and office tools) are being taught. Naturally, this leaves students uninspired and with little desire to explore the subject beyond the classroom.

Another issue is that not enough emphasis is placed on showing students how varied and lucrative a career in IT can be. There is a perception that with a qualification in ICT young people will exclusively finds jobs at an IT company or doing rather unglamorous back-office or support work - often in a male-dominated working environment.

Teachers, governments and businesses must work to disprove this perception. With the right computer science skills young people can find work in any industry, in any sector and in any position. All businesses today, and in the future, will rely to some extent on IT - for most technology is at the core of whatever they do - whether they operate in retail, manufacturing, financial services, the arts, or virtually any other discipline.

In large part, reform will come down to changing the way computing skills are taught in schools. In the UK, the government is actively looking to update the existing ICT curriculum to be fit for the modern age. Once we move away from teaching children how to use basic desktop applications and hardware and towards more involved concepts such as programming or networking, we will be on the right track.

For its part, the government and British Computing Society have unveiled an encouraging new plan to help combat the IT skills shortage. 400 "master" computer science teachers are currently being recruited to help reshape how computer science is taught in UK schools. The individuals will in turn train teachers in other schools and provide them with resources to teach more relevant computer science topics. This initiative could not be timelier, and represents a hugely positive step towards improving young peoples' IT literacy.

With businesses today putting IT at the heart of their operations to make the most of trends such as big data and the Internet of Things, a workforce with strong computer skills has never been more valuable. Arming the next generation of workers with real-world IT skills is essential, and will better prepare them to find employment and contribute in their new roles as they navigate an increasingly IT-centric world.  

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Chance for five UK education start-ups to showcase technologies at Jisc Digital Festival...for free

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Jisc, a UK technology education and research charity, is offering five start-ups the opportunity to showcase their ideas at its inaugural Digital Festival.  

 

Taking place 11-12 March at the ICC Birmingham, the Jisc Digital Festival aims to celebrate the best in digital technologies and investigate future trends that will impact education and research.

 

Jisc is offering five companies the chance to secure free exhibition space at the event, a two day exhibitor pass for two people, and a demonstration slot to highlight what their company offers.

 

To be considered for the bursary companies applying must meet the following criteria:

 

  • Be a UK-based start-up
  • Have less than ten employees
  • Offer a technology product or service that is innovative, primarily targeting UK higher education, further education and/or skill sectors.

Andrew McGregor, deputy chief innovation officer at Jisc, said: "One of the most exciting things about the Jisc Digital Festival is the sheer diversity of people who will attend; people from a variety of higher and further education institutions and commercial organisations with many different roles and titles.

 

"This makes this bursary a fantastic opportunity for educational technology start-ups to meet potential customers and network with experts in digital technology."

 

The festival is set to include keynotes from educational experts such as Sugata Mitra and Diana Oblinger.

 

The deadline to apply for the Jisc Start-Up Bursary is 31 January 2014. Details on eligibility can be found here.

 

 

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40 IT employers show support for 1,500 students at Manchester Careers Aspiration event

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1,500 school pupils from across Manchester were given opportunity to learn how to write code and create apps last week.

 

 The Careers Aspiration Event, held last week, included over 40 employers who used the day to showcase professional and vocational skills and to promote apprenticeships as a pathway into a variety of careers.

 

Taking place at the Manchester Central Convention Complex, 'Have a Go' activities were provided for pupils in years 9, 10 and 11 from schools within the Manchester City Council area.

Six different coding activities were set up on Apple computers so students could try their hand at what it would be like working in IT. Each activity had a code missing from the programme which students needed to replace once they had learnt to write the code. This then enabled them to play an interactive game.

 

Present at the event was service provider FDM Group. Heather Bridge, FDM's European training manager said: "It was a great opportunity to inspire younger generations into IT and address the skills shortage in the industry, and FDM is proud to be a part of that."

 

According to FDM feedback from pupils was very positive from both boys and girls present on the day. FDM said students repeatedly stated that they would rather study the subject in school if the curriculum included more activities like coding rather than how to use databases and Microsoft related documents.

 

FDM said they discovered that some pupils who had taken a keen interest in coding had taught themselves at home as they did not have the opportunity to do so in their school IT lessons.  

 

The event was funded by World Skills UK and co-ordinated by Manchester City Council and Greater Manchester Learning Provider Network.

 

 

 

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Why take on apprentices?

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This is a guest blog from Stephen Bushell from Mercato Solutions who talks about apprenticeships and opportunities for young people starting out in the technology sector.   

The Midlands is one of the fastest growing regions for the technology sector. Birmingham alone houses over 6,000 tech firms, employing over 38,000 people and delivering £768 million to the regional economy. To combat the risk of a skills crisis, apprenticeships should be high on the agenda of technology businesses when it comes to up-skilling the workforce and providing opportunities.

At Mercato we have developed ways to incorporate apprenticeships into our business framework, and more and more companies are following suit. Businesses are discovering that not only do apprenticeships provide young people with an opportunity to gain essential skills and get their foot in the door, but they can also bring a lot to the companies who offer to support them. 

So why take on apprentices?

It has been said many times before, but it is worth noting that there is a considerable gap between the skills youngsters are developing in IT lessons at school and those required to be employed in the sector. The move from education to work is also a huge jump for young people starting out in any career and this is where apprenticeships can help to bridge that inevitable gap between education and the workplace.

Creating apprenticeship opportunities gives young people a chance to build confidence and prove their competencies in the workplace - whilst also developing a valuable skill-set. Companies that provide opportunities to young people can up-skill a local community and assist in driving business and innovation forward - if managed in the right way.

In my experience, finding the right people with the right skill set can be a challenge - not to mention that taking someone on, based on an interview alone, provides no real certainty as to whether they are the right fit for the company's culture, or how their skills will contribute to  the overall corporate vision. In this way, employing new staff will always carry an element of risk in any business.

I find that employing individuals through apprenticeship schemes significantly reduces the degree of risk involved, since you not only have your own knowledge that they work well, but you are also able to develop and nurture their skills in a direction suited to your particular company. We've found our apprentices have developed skills that are of real value to the business.

Protecting the future of the UK tech scene

There is a growing appetite for young apprentices within the tech industry -particularly as the Government recently announced plans to provide financial support to anyone taking on a role within the sector.

We find that our apprentices are genuinely excited and keen to work with the technology we build and use, as well as being surprised that there are so many opportunities for training and support across the industry. Supported by our training partner, Birmingham Metropolitan College, our apprentices learn about various areas of technology, from servers to networking. We are also using our own software platform, KnowledgeKube, as part of the training process and apprentices are learning hands-on how to develop software applications without writing a single line of code.

I think this helps to combat the misconception, which may begin in the classroom, that to work in technology you have to be a 'techie' and need to have had some training in software development. That's why our sector needs to work harder at building awareness of the vast range of opportunities available in our industry, helping young people to realise that a career in technology is within their grasp.

With the UK tech sector thriving, it's critical that we drive innovation for growth and don't let a shortage of skills hold us back. Apprentices offer us a new way to nurture talent. This, I hope, will lead to a generation of highly skilled employees that will deliver significant business benefits and develop the technology landscape in Birmingham and beyond.

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Seven career tips for IT contractors

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Derek Kelly.jpgThis is a guest blog from Derek Kelly, managing director at Optionis - home to professional employment provider Parasol and contractor accountant ClearSky

 

Now is a good time to be an IT contractor. Rates are increasing in line with growing demand, whilst the accelerating economic recovery means assignment opportunities are currently more plentiful than at any time since the financial crash. Confidence levels amongst IT contractors are on the up.

 

None of this means, however, that success is easy to come by. Here are my top seven tips for a lasting, prosperous contracting career:

 

1)       Choose the right setup for you

Many newcomers to the world of IT contracting are worried about the lack of job security and the level of admin and paperwork involved, and therefore choose to work through an umbrella company or professional employment organisation (PEO) instead of setting up a limited company. It's common for umbrella contractors to then make the leap and 'go limited' once they have gained sufficient experience and are satisfied that the contracting lifestyle suits them. There is no right or wrong answer when deciding whether to go umbrella or limited, but it's vital that you do your research. 

 

2)      Find a first-class recruitment agency

A pro-active, intelligent, helpful recruiter will be one of your biggest allies - particularly in the early days when your CV lacks evidence of contracting experience, and assignments are therefore sometimes difficult to secure. We work with lots of recruitment agencies, and what separates the best from the rest is a willingness to go the extra mile for contractors. Your recruitment consultant should know your skill-set inside out, and be able to advise you on improving your CV and 'selling yourself' more generally.

 

3)      Learn to sell yourself

This leads nicely onto my next point, which is something that many contracting newcomers struggle with: mastering the art of self-promotion (also known as blowing your own trumpet). It may require stepping out of your comfort zone, but developing the ability to articulate your skills when speaking to recruiters and end clients could make all the difference when it comes to securing assignments.   

 

4)      Network, network, network

Keeping up appearances may seem like a drag if you're busy with your current assignment or contract, but doing so will help to ensure the work doesn't dry up in future. Successful contractors realise that things can change quickly in the contracting world, and treat networking as a future-proofing tool. Make time to meet contacts for coffee, attend breakfast seminars and show your face at networking lunches. Additionally, remember that contractors who fail to utilise social media sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter may be missing a trick.  

 

5)      Become a specialist

Positioning yourself as a specialist in one particular area requires bravery, especially in the early days when it's tempting to cast your net far and wide. However, doing so can help you stand out from the crowd. Successfully carve a niche for yourself in an in-demand field, or one that is experiencing skill shortages, and the rewards can be substantial. For example, a recent survey by recruitment firm Manpower found that IT contractors with niche skills, such as data governance, cloud and mobile, are "hugely in demand" and commanding rates of up to £1,000 a day.

 

6)      Invest in yourself

In a fast-moving sector like IT, it's vital that you keep your skills, qualifications and technical knowledge up to date. Use periods between assignments to attend training sessions and work towards industry-recognised qualifications. Many training providers now run fast-track courses over weekends, and discounts are often available, so be sure to shop around and negotiate.

 

7)      Keep the taxman happy

Keeping on top of your finances may be mundane, but the last thing any IT contractor wants is to get on the wrong side of HMRC. An investigation by the tax authorities can be extremely stressful and time-consuming, so it pays to play by the rules. Be sure to choose a compliant, ethical provider if going down the umbrella company route, and be mindful of IR35 if operating through your own limited company.

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The top five job must-haves for IT professionals

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Chant_Lee_4805_72dpi_rgb.jpgThis is a guest blog from Lee Chant, UK and Ireland IT and telecoms managing director at Hays IT.

According to our latest research, 80% of IT workers will be dusting off their CVs and planning a job move in the next two years. With many of these starting their job search in January, employers will be facing tough competition for the skilled workers they need if they do not recognise the factors IT professionals value when looking for a new role.

 

The IT professionals we surveyed for the Hays IT Salary Guide told us these are the areas they care about the most:

 

1.     Salary

 

Over half of IT employees said they haven't received a salary increase in the last 12 months, so we weren't surprised to hear that salary is the number one deciding factor for employees considering their career options. The good news for workers is that two thirds of employers expect to be able to increase salaries in the next 12 months, the return of counter offers looks set to increase salaries further.

2.     Location

Location was the second highest priority for IT workers when considering a new role, with workers prioritising a convenient location when looking for a new job. Employers may not be able to relocate to attract staff, but should emphasise the benefits of their location and perks of the office when recruiting.

3.     A challenge

The third highest priority for IT workers was a challenging role or projects. The fact that this is prized over a pension or bonus shows how crucial it is for employers to emphasise the career opportunities they can offer.  Following in fourth were career development opportunities, half of IT employees said they do not think there is scope for career progression within their current organisation, so demonstrating a commitment to employees' professional development is a strong selling point.

4.     Work-life balance

Flexible working options and a good work-life balance were the benefit most valued by employers looking for a new role, but only around half (52%) of employees currently receive these options. Although some high profile technology companies including Yahoo! have reversed their flexible working policies home working and flexitime are still attractive options to many.

5.     Job security

Despite high demand for IT professionals, job security is still a priority in a new role. Only 16% of employees said they felt more secure in their job than they did 12 months ago, while 29% said they felt less secure than their job now, a slight decrease from 2012. 

 

Employers face tough competition for IT skills in 2014, but offering a competitive salary and benefits package and understanding the motivations of employees will ensure that employers can attract and retain the people they need in the year ahead.

 

To find out more about the survey and salaries offered for a wide range of IT roles, view the Hays IT Salary Guide at http://www.hays.co.uk/it-salary-guide/index.htm

 

About the author

 

Lee Chant is managing director of Hays Information Technology - www.hays.co.uk/it


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Fishing for future employees at Datacenter Dynamics Converged, London

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This is a guest blog from Adelle Desouza, partner marketing manager at Enlogic

It's been an eventful year for us all in the data centre world, but the Enlogic team has been kept busy by exhibiting at a number of high profile data centre conferences across the globe. I personally have followed the circuit around the UK, Republic of Ireland, Singapore, Germany and the Netherlands.

dcd panel.jpgAs an advocate for welcoming fresh talent into the field, I am always curious to see how the topic is discussed at these events if at all. I have noticed that the industry is starting to address the issue and do more to engage potential new talent. In fact this year the organisers of November's Datacenter Dynamics Converged conference, in London, turned their hand to orchestrating such a debate.

I am constantly on the look out for opportunities to talk about securing the future of the data centre and was delighted to be invited to participate in a panel discussion. I was joined by other young professionals working in the IT industry, from companies such as Operational Intelligence and Sudlows, to talk about the positive aspects of our careers. The debate was attended not only by industry experts, but students of tech-based subjects from the London area, and it was great to have a voice and a platform from which to speak to them.

A simple way to educate young people about job prospects in the industry is to treat conferences as networking opportunities. In my last blog for Computer Weekly I spoke about having a presence at graduate fairs. But as well as entering their world, there is no reason why you can't bring potential new employees into our world as well. Organising a tour around the various stalls at a conference, and encouraging vendors to speak plainly about the different components of the data centre, is a mutually beneficial conversation for both parties.

As the year draws to a close and conference organisers look ahead, I hope they can continue treating the issue surrounding young talent in our industry as a key theme. Preparations need to be put in place now if young people are to have a role in the survival and development of the data centre.

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